Politics and Ridicule in a Post-Consensus Age
It is foolish not to use the left's tactics against them.
Talk show host Dennis Prager was complaining one day about how the Left ridicules the Right. He sounded a bit indignant. He went on to say that he does not employ ridicule. But why doesn't he? He didn't say why, but I will for him: because he is a gentleman who exemplifies the good old conservative virtue of civility. And because he is a bit naïve.
Prager's behavior, in one way laudable, in another way is not, resting as it does on an assumption that I doubt is true at the present time. Prager assumes that political differences are more like intellectual differences among gentlemanly interlocutors than they are like the differences among warring parties. He assumes that there is a large measure of common ground and the real possibility of mutually beneficial compromise, the sort of compromise that serves the common good by mitigating the extremism of the differing factions, as opposed to that form of compromise, entered into merely to survive, whereby one side knuckles under to the extremism of the other.
But if we are now in the age of post-consensus politics, if politics is war by another name, then it is just foolish not to use the left's tactics against them.
And that includes ridicule. As Saul Alinksy's Rule #5 has it:
Ridicule is man's most potent weapon.
It is not enough to be right, or have the facts on your side, or to have the better arguments. That won't cut it in a war. Did the Allies prevail over the Axis Powers in virtue of having truth and right on their side? It was might that won the day, and, to be honest, the employing of morally dubious means (e.g., the firebombing of Dresden, the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki), the same sort of means that the Axis would have employed had they been able to. One hopes that the current mostly cold civil war doesn't turn hot and bloody. But no good purpose is served by failing to understand that what we have here is a war and not minor disagreements about means within the common horizon of agreed-upon assumptions, values, and goals.
Have we entered the age of post-consensus politics? I think so. We should catalog our irreconcilable differences. For now a quick incomplete list. We disagree radically about: the role and reach of government; crime and punishment; race; marriage; abortion; drugs; pornography; gun rights; free speech; the interpretation of the Constitution; religion; the nature of justice and what it demands; economics. Our disagreements are so radical as to have metaphysical roots: we disagree about the nature of reality and the existence of truth.
Take religion. I have no common ground with you if you think every vestige of the Judeo-Christian heritage should be removed from the public square, or if you take the sort of extremist line represented by people like Richard Dawkins and A. C. Grayling. If, however, you are an atheist who gives the Establishment Clause a reasonable interpretation, then we have some common ground.
I don’t want to believe what I fear to be true: there is no longer any possibility of compromise. We either defeat our political enemies or they defeat us.